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Program to Land Neurodiverse Adults Government Cybersecurity Jobs Wins Prize

A pilot program that aims to find neurodiverse adults cybersecurity jobs with the federal government has won the Government Effectiveness Advanced Research (GEAR) Center challenge.

The program was created by a collaboration between George Mason University, Mercyhurst University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Maryland, Drexel University, SAPSpecialisterne, the DXC Dandelion Program, and the MITRE Corporation, which led the effort. 

Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity was one of three grand prize winners, each of which was awarded a $300,000 federal grant. The proposal urges the creation of a workforce program to help the federal government identify, train, and promote candidates who are neurodiverse.  

Neurodiversity as a term covers a wide range of conditions, including dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorders, and Tourette's syndrome.

Key features of the program are management and co-worker training and the creation of career and social development programs to prepare candidates.

“Attracting and retaining technical talent, especially those with cybersecurity skills, is a key management challenge for the U.S. government, states and the private sector, as well,” said James Cook, MITRE vice president for strategic engagement and partnerships. “MITRE and its partners developed an approach to activate an untapped talent pool that leverages leading practices and tools that have been adopted by the private sector and non-governmental organizations to tackle this persistent problem. We look forward to partnering with a government agency to pilot the program.”

A government agency partner is yet to be confirmed; however, MITRE has every reason to believe that the project will prove successful once it's up and running. Earlier this year, the nonprofit launched a company-wide initiative to mainstream neurodiversity hiring and employment practices with a focus on positions in cybersecurity. Two college co-ops have recently been hired through this program, which MITRE has said it will continue to scale. 

"Cybersecurity is a role-oriented discipline requiring logic, curiosity, ability to solve problems and find patterns through micro-focused attention,” said Tara Cunningham, CEO, Specialisterne, which specializes in neurodiverse tech hiring and is one of the pilot’s partners. “Although autistic and other neurodiverse people are strong across all disciplines, for many, cybersecurity is a natural fit."

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and General Service Administration’s (GSA) GEAR Center competition challenges problem solvers from the public, academia, and industry to build cross-sector, multidisciplinary teams to demonstrate the potential of the GEAR Center. Winning entries by two other collaborative teams focused on government use of evidence and data.

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